The knee jerks

By Gary Callahan, Prisoner of the Drug War

Gary with his mom
Within hours of the Littleton, Colorado shooting spree, Drug Czar McCaffrey issued a statement to the effect that teens in this country were immersed in a culture of drugs and violence and rock and roll. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), was doubtless fervently wishing that the Littleton shooters were high on drugs when they cut loose, and Mr. McCaffrey's statement was a precursor of the bombast to come over the vital need to further destroy our civil rights with even stricter drug control policies. Unfortunately for the knee jerks in the ONDCP, neither of the Littleton killers tested positive for illicit drugs, a case of better luck next time, fellas.

McCaffrey and crew did the same thing earlier in April of 1998 in a lurid press release stating "Marijuana Used By The Jonesboro Killers," this one in reference to Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson, the 11 and 13 year olds who triggered the school fire alarm and then fired upon students and teachers. McCaffrey characterized these youths as "reputed marijuana smokers" in the plural, because, of course, once you smoke marijuana you have this urge to kill everyone in sight. But later on, the Washington Post reported that while Johnson had bragged to his classmates that he had smoked marijuana a few times, none of them believed him, and neither youth were either under the influence or had illicit drugs in their systems.

This reminds us of the post-Vietnam years when, upon any wild shooting incident, the first thing the news people asked was, "Was it a Vietnam vet?!" because, of course, once having served in Vietnam, you have this urge to kill everything in sight. We posit that if it were true that marijuana and service in Vietnam triggered murderous urges in even a fraction of those who use it or walked those deadly rice paddies, there wouldn't be anyone left alive in this country by now.

There seems an imperative by officials with vested interests to show that drugs are behind every tragedy in American society. It doesn't matter if there isn't any truth to their knee jerk statements, or that they will prove false later on; the point is to drive this idea as deeply as possible into the American psyche. State and federal policymakers are poised 24 hours a day to make these accusations for the twin purposes of furthering their specific agenda and being the first to rush in legislation in a kind of ape-like chest pounding which they think assures them of the votes cast by the pathetically few who bother to vote anymore.

This is a consistent pattern: take for instance the Amtrak rail crash in 1983, where it was alleged that a vial of cocaine was found in an engineer's compartment. Legislation was slapped together overnight in the hyped-up hysteria over a drug riddled public transportation service, requiring random blood and urine tests from everyone from train engineers to airline pilots. Over and again on the front pages were posturing politicians crying for blood; literally. The railroad engineers were high on cocaine, they brayed, and this had caused the crash. By inference, if something wasn't done (by laws, of course), airline pilots would be snorting coke at 30,000 feet.

Several weeks later in the B-section of these same newspapers, about page three, in one or two short paragraphs, it was revealed that the railroad engineers who died in the crash had not tested positive for illicit drugs at all. No one could account for the empty vial of cocaine found on the scene. Perhaps it was simply tossed there by someone else, maybe even a government agent; point being, no one knew. Claiming random blood testing was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Railway Labor Association took the case to court, challenging the law. Ultimately, and despite the fact that illegal drugs were not the culprit, the Supreme Court, in Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association 489 U.S. 602, upheld random blood testing for transportation workers, a knee jerk reaction based upon erroneous evidence, once again expanding federal reach.

The drastic punishments embodied in the State and Federal Sentencing Guidelines for drug charges were put into place by the same kind of reflex after basketball star Len Bias died while freebasing cocaine in 1986. Then Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill was livid that the young athlete's demise meant he would not play for the Celtics, O'Neill's home team. With no studies or hearings conducted to investigate cause, effect and fiscal and social impact, O'Neill gave legislators four weeks to draft the laws, push them through subcommittee, and get them on the books. Eric Sterling, a former congressional staff attorney who helped write the laws and now calls them "one of the most catastrophic aspects of his professional life," states: "It was astounding. There were no hearings, no testimony from drug enforcement officials in the practical application of the laws...they were making it up as they went along."

What is more astounding is that federal prosecutors push for the maximum time on these ill-conceived laws and federal judges have done their utmost to justify them in the courts, often bending fact, logic and the Bill of Rights into shapes more commonly seen on a Salvador Dali canvas. Every man, woman and child in America now pays more than $250 each per year to keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for these unwarranted, illogical lengths of time.

The Littleton massacre has launched strident calls for studies about what prompts such heinous acts in our society, yet the answers are largely self-evident. The combined state and federal tax burden on wage earners in this country keep them working for the government from January to mid July just to pay their "fair share" of taxes. In a culture where consumerism and material values are not merely embraced, but overtly worshipped, parents must work full time and overtime to achieve this highly advertised "good" life; while also paying the tax bill. The federal government is the main hog, because it costs a lot of money to enforce the federalization of America, to expand the essential police state it is becoming and to otherwise be the world's moral conscience.

The average working couple have too little time to spend with their children and the extended family of yesteryear is only a quaint memory. Children are left to fend for themselves, to form ideological parameters wherever they can, upon whatever lines they choose for themselves, with little or no guidance from their enharnessed 20 mule team tax parents. It doesn't help much that drug war policies have made "orphans" of over two million children, either, with one or both parents serving long sentences. Television is the surrogate parent and moral counselor, and movies and video games depict ceaseless brutal carnage and make acts of extreme violence more commonplace than Cheerios for breakfast. The wonder might be that there aren't battalions of latchkey machine gunners roving the streets.

It is irony indeed to watch the knee jerks in Congress now seeking all manner of new gun legislation as if guns were the cause of the Littleton incident; this while the United States is the world's leading arms exporter and F-16s and A-10 attack planes perform a 24 hour per day version of Strike Command and Tank Buster over Yugoslavia. Everywhere America goes, it makes an arcade game of the real world with endless displays of brute force, and yet cynically decries the violence of its youth.

Without addressing these contradictions, and with this sorry state of affairs where parents are taxed into two jobs and taxed out of a home life with their children to pay for all this high-tech killing equipment, and the policies that wield it, the knee jerks divert scrutiny by using the perennial scapegoats: civilian possession of guns and drugs and rock and roll. One of these days, inevitably, some dysfunctional anemic will fortify or dull himself with a controlled substance for real and McCaffrey's wish will come true. But so what? What can we expect in such a leaderless society?